Congressional candidate Maggie Brooks raised a few eyebrows recently when she attended a local luncheon where the keynote speaker was Conservative personality-assassin Ann Coulter. For my money, Coulter is the worst of the worst, a smug malignancy with a pathological thirst for glory.
Here are a couple of examples of Coulter’s “wisdom”:
On the 9/11 widows who were critical of the Bush administration:
"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's deaths so much." (http://loop21.com/top-5-craziest-or-most-racist-ann-coulter-quotes)
The "backbone of the Democratic Party" is a "typical fat, implacable welfare recipient"— syndicated column 10/29/99. (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0111.coulterwisdom.html)
So when we had Brooks in the office last week, I asked how the Coulter visit fits in with her vision of a kinder, gentler Congress. She said that all she did was attend a luncheon and that she had nothing to do with bringing Coulter to Rochester.
“It was a fund-raiser for the local Republican Party,” Brooks said. “They didn’t ask my permission. I attended as a supporter of the party, not as a supporter of Ann Coulter. I don’t agree with everything she says.”
“I probably go to 10 to 12 luncheons a year where I absolutely disagree with the speaker and I never get to say so,” Brooks added. “And I don’t get beaten up for attending.”
Over the past few days, several significant news stories about fracking have emerged. In addition to the developments around New York's review of the technique. Here’s a partial roundup.
• A federal judge dismissed state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's lawsuit over fracking regulations for the Delaware River Basin. Schneiderman sued the Delaware River Basin Commission, which is developing the regulations, in an attempt to force a full environmental review of the process. But the judge tossed out the case because "development plans are in the early stages and the threat of harm is speculative," reports Bloomberg Businessweek.
• The Associated Press published a report detailing how millions of dollars in federal funding helped drilling companies develop and perfect high-volume hydraulic fracturing. This isn't a new story, but it does point out the discrepancy between drilling companies' recent claims that the fracking boom happened because government took a hands-off approach. It quotes fracking pioneers who say the technique's success shows why government should support research into future energy sources, even if the technology takes decades to be productive. The article also illustrates the role that government has played in encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels; whether that was intended by the author is another matter.
• Earthworks, an environmental group that opposes fracking, issued a report on oil and gas drilling regulatory enforcement efforts in various states. New York was among the states it evaluated. It says state environmental officials did not inspect 76 percent of active wells. It also faulted the state for failing to monitor disposal of wastewater from existing wells.
• Environment New York, another anti-fracking environmental group, released a report called "The Costs of Fracking." The report highlights costs related to road damage, water contamination, fracking waste treatment, and public health issues.
When the County Legislature’s Agenda/Charter Committee meets this afternoon, it’ll take up a Democratic referral regarding indigent burials.
The Democratic proposal would require the county to provide a permanent marker for anyone buried through the county’s burial assistance program. The marker would contain the deceased’s name, date of birth, and date of death.
The legislation would also require cemeteries that get burial payments from the county to maintain all plots equally.
The legislation is intended to address long-standing complaints about the conditions of grave sites at cemeteries that receive county burial assistance payments; most of those burials happen at Oatka Cemetery. Advocates for the poor have complained that indigent burials are concentrated in one part of the cemetery, which has not been kept as well as the rest of the cemetery and periodically suffers from standing water.
The committee meets at 5 p.m. at the County Office Building, 39 West Main Street. — Jeremy Moule
At its meeting on Thursday, September 27, the Rochester school board will vote on a proposal to involve police officers in a truancy-reduction plan.
The resolution would authorize a nearly $1.1 million contract with the city to use police officers as School Resource Officers to help locate truant students and take them to school. But some board members are strongly opposed to having the officers do that work unless school district personnel are involved because of tense relations between police and city youth.
Even if the resolution is approved, the officers can’t be used in the district’s truancy reduction efforts until the board approves a plan for how they will be used. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. in the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street. — Tim Louis Macaluso
If the City newsroom is an accurate microcosm of the larger Rochester community, chances are you were plenty upset to hear that City of Rochester employees don’t have to pay their red-light fines. Brian Sharpe of the Democrat and Chronicle reported recently that city employees in city-owned vehicles ran red lights 119 times over the last year-and-a-half, but because of union contracts, they are not subject to the standard $50 fine.
The employees were snared in the city’s growing web of red-light cameras.
Mayor Tom Richards says that he knows it looks bad, but that city employees are not getting away with anything. The employees may not have to pay the fine, he says, but they are subject to a progressive level of discipline that could eventually cost them their jobs.
Every driving-related issue involving a city employee is examined to determine if the employee was at fault, Richards says. If the employee is to blame, there is a series of steps that can start with a correction plan, Richards says, all the way to losing the right to drive for the city. So if your job depends on your ability to drive for the city, you’re in trouble.
“I understand how people feel about [this] and I understand how it looks,” Richards says. “But the fact of the matter is for our employees, this is actually more serious than paying the fine.”
Yesterday, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens said that he wouldn't agree to an independent health study of fracking. (See this post from yesterday for the statement.)
Environmental and medical groups have called for such a study. They believe that high-volume hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas extraction technique that the state is reviewing, poses serious environmental and health risks. Environmental Advocates of New York released a statement last night criticizing the commissioner's decision. Below is part of the statement, from Katherine Nadeau, Environmental Advocates' water and natural resources program director:
"We are disappointed that Governor Cuomo has rejected requests for an independent assessment on the public health impacts of fracking, ignoring the state’s health professionals, including the New York State Nurses Association and the Medical Society of the State of New York.
"It would be reckless for the administration to finalize and release the governor’s plans for fracking before his DEC’s internal health study is reviewed and vetted by the public."
In his statement yesterday, Martens said that a decision on whether to allow fracking won't be made until the health assessment is complete. But Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration has already floated a proposal to allow fracking in several Southern Tier counties, as long as the communities are in favor of the drilling.
Nadeau said there are too many unanswered questions about fracking's health impacts. She also questioned whether the study would include "a baseline assessment of a community’s health before drilling begins."
“We would fully expect that, at a minimum, the details of whatever analysis has been done be revealed to the public, its feedback solicited, and the entire environmental impact statement and draft regulations be re-noticed, if not withdrawn,” Nadeau said in the statement.
New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens just released a statement saying that he will not agree to an independent public health study of fracking.
Environmental groups along with some municipal officials and medical professionals had called for the study. Martens says that instead, state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah will assess the health impacts of fracking as part of DEC's ongoing environmental review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in shale formations. Martens says that he asked Shah to identify qualified outside experts to advise him during the review. Martens' full statement is below:
"DEC has been reviewing approximately 80,000 comments submitted concerning the Department’s review of high volume hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking). While a wide variety of issues are addressed by the comments, many focus on the potential public health impacts of high volume hydrofracking.
"I have had numerous conversations with many of the parties on all sides of this issue. I have recently met with several of the groups who have raised public health concerns and it is clear they are not satisfied with the Department’s effort to address potential public health impacts. The groups would require that DEC conduct an outside health study that would determine the outcome of the final decision. I reject that demand. I believe it is highly likely that some of these groups will pursue litigation following the conclusion of the Departmental process if they do not agree with the outcome.
"I believe deferring to an outside group or entity would be an inappropriate delegation of a governmental responsibility. Government is the public’s independent reviewer: that is the essence of the current process. To suggest private interests or academic experts bring more independence to the process than government is exactly wrong. Many experts in this field have an opinion — pro or con- which could influence the process. Nor could one ever be sure that there weren't potential conflicts of interest with outside consultants if they were to actually direct the outcome. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure objectivity and a review directed by DEC and the Department of Health is without bias.
"The Governor’s instructions have been clear from the outset — let the science determine the outcome.
"Fundamentally, I want to make sure that we have done the most thorough review possible, especially when it comes to public health concerns. In addition, I want to ensure that the Department has the most legally defensible review so that when the Department issues its final determination on this matter, protracted litigation is avoided, whatever the outcome.
"Accordingly, I have asked and NYS Health Commissioner Nirav Shah has agreed to assess the Department's health impact analysis. I have also asked Dr. Shah to identify the most qualified outside experts to advise him in his review. While the review will be informed by outside perspectives on the science of hydrofracking, the decision-making will remain a governmental responsibility.
"Only after this evaluation is completed will a decision be made about whether to permit high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York. Obviously if there was a public health concern that could not be addressed we would not proceed. The process to date has been designed to maintain public trust in the integrity of DEC’s review, and Dr. Shah's assessment will assure New Yorkers that we have thoroughly examined all the issues before making a final decision. The review will also ensure the strongest possible legal position for the Department given the near certainty of litigation, whether the Department permits hydrofracking or not.
"I believe this action addresses any legitimate request for additional due diligence and study as well as ensuring DEC’s ultimate decision on hydraulic fracturing is beyond reproach either as a matter of law or as policy. I believe the action also protects the independence of the DEC while availing ourselves of the best possible advice from the private and academic sectors. While I am sure these actions will not satisfy all parties, I do believe it will result in the most thorough review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the nation, regardless of the final decision."
Days after the one year anniversary of the first Occupy Wall Street protests, Forbes Magazine released its annual list of the 400 richest Americans. The richest 400 saw their net worth climb 13 percent from August 2011 to August 2012 topping $1.7 trillion.
At first glance, it’s little more than an entertaining peek over the fence. Many of the usual business leaders appear on the list: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, the Koch brothers, and the Waltons hug the top. Poor Mark Zuckerberg, often touted as the country’s youngest billionaire, saw his net worth drop to $9.3 billion after Facebook’s stock value fell.
But the more important question: how is the rest of America doing? The answer is not so entertaining.
Hourly wages, according to a Christian Science Monitor article, have remained flat. One in five mortgage holders are “upside down,” owing more money than their property is worth. And household income is somewhere around 1990 levels.
The very richest Americans, in contrast, have seen rapid gains in their wealth over the last decade. Though many of the Forbes titans are extremely generous, gifting billions to charities, that doesn’t compensate for what average Americans are experiencing after years of trickle-down economics.
Regardless of who wins the presidential election in November, the country’s next president may soon discover that the threat to our security is not whatever is erupting overseas.
The instability is right here at home.
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein may have one of the smartest responses to Mitt Romney's 47 percent remarks.
In a blog post this morning, Klein seizes on Romney's remarks that he'll never win over a segment of the population that he says is dependent on the government. In Romney's words, he'll "never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
The personal responsibility argument was inevitable. Republicans at all levels of government frequently employ it, on and off the campaign trail. But as Klein points out, it's a misguided talking point at best:
"The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life," Klein writes. "You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier, that give you time and space to focus on what you want to focus on."
Klein's post is worth a read. It offers good perspective for an election year where programs that impact the poor and taxes are an issue.
The closely-watched battle between Chicago’s teachers and Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped to illuminate some of the problems confronting urban education. But even though the strike is over, the war between education reformers and urban teachers goes on, says NY Times columnist Joe Nocera.
Teacher evaluations linked to standardized tests and charter schools remain contentious issues, Nocera says in a recent article. But maybe more troubling is what he calls the poisonous atmosphere growing in many America’s urban schools.
Alienated labor is never a good thing, says Nocera. And how can such toxic environments not impact what happens in the nation’s classrooms?
If we want to improve student outcomes in urban schools, we’ve got to get past blaming teachers and bashing unions. And that means recognizing that teacher accountability is necessary, and that tenure shouldn’t be handed out like candy.
But it also means that we can’t continue to minimize the impact poverty has on so many urban students. In the private sector, we have a low tolerance for employees that come to work with emotional problems, little or no sleep, and unable to focus because this would jeopardize profitability.
But we’re telling teachers that their job depends on overcoming similar obstacles with their students.
Significant progress is being made in other countries, most notably Denmark, where teachers belong to unions. Their success suggests the US is not putting enough emphasis on the things that really improve student performance: stronger early childhood education programs, better teacher preparation and higher pay, and wrap-around services for students and their families.
Over 400 elected officials, including several in Monroe County, have signed on to a letter urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to maintain the de facto moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The letter, led by a group known as Elected Officials to Protect New York, says that the current analyses of fracking are inadequate.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is conducting a detailed environmental review of high-volume fracking in shale formations. Governor Cuomo's administration has floated a proposal to allow fracking in the deepest parts of the Marcellus Shale formation, as long as the communities approve of the technique. But plenty of New Yorkers have concerns about fracking and its effects on things like water and air quality, roads, and home values.
On its website, Elected Officials to Protect New York offers its own list of concerns about fracking:
"We are concerned about hydraulic fracturing’s potential impacts on public health, local governments, first responders and law enforcement personnel, and the effects of drilling on property values and home mortgages, existing businesses and economies, and local community character. We are concerned about the lack of studies documenting the cumulative environmental impacts of fracking on our communities, water resources, air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions. We are concerned about the lack of safe alternatives for wastewater disposal. We are concerned about seismic activity, unsafe radiation levels, farm and ecosystem fragmentation, and insufficient DEC staffing."
Monroe County officials who have signed on to the letter include:
• County Legislator Carrie Andrews
• Brighton Town Clerk Dan Aman
• Brighton Town Board member Jason DiPonzio
• Brighton Supervisor William Moehle
• Brighton Town Board member Louise Novros
• Brighton Town Board member Christopher Werner
• Mendon Town Board member Moe Bickweat
• Honeoye Falls Mayor Richard Milne
• Rush Town Board member Kathryn Steiner
• Rush Town Board member Daniel Woolaver
• Rochester City Councilmember Jackie Ortiz
• Rochester City Councilmember Loretta Scott
• Rochester City Councilmember Elaine Spaull
• Rochester City Councilmember Matt Haag
• Churchville village Trustee Diane Pusateri
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